By Judith E. Glaser | Executive Street: Your Daily Resource for Thought Leadership
Published January 11, 2012
When Bayer, a $7 billion multinational pharmaceutical company, acquired a smaller $300 million diagnostic company, Rolf Classon the CEO, chose to call it a “merger.”
He wanted to immediately establish a “power-with others” relationship with the new organization. I was part of a consulting team who facilitated a multi-day vision, values, and leadership session to help the leadership team create the new direction for the culture and the business.
“We are becoming one company,” Rolf told the top hundred people from both companies at their kickoff meeting. He went on to convey that he wanted to set new ground rules for working collaboratively in a new environment in which “together we can create something that never existed before.”
The executives discussed changes that needed to be made in the organization to maximize the new partnership. Then they broke into smaller teams to craft the new vision and values, with the intent of reporting their insights to the larger executive team.
When the executives reconvened, a spirit of collaboration had clearly emerged.
Rolf once again stood before the group and asked, “How many of you have been through a visioning session before?” Everyone raised his or her hand.
“How many of you have left those sessions and returned to the workplace, only to find that nothing had changed?” Mostly everyone raised his or hand. He then declared, “For us to be successful as an organization, we need to realize that we can’t create the organization we want without making fundamental changes in ourselves.”
As the event unfolded, something magical occurred. Rolf, by his example, taught the executives the true meaning of leadership. “Change begins inside each person. So I want to let you know that over the past few days I have been looking at what I’ve been doing to unknowingly prevent change from taking place.
“I’ve discovered at least sixteen things I want to change about myself! Here are my top three: my arrogance, my control, and my lack of trust.
“At lunch I want you each to think about what change means to you, and what you can do personally to inspire your own growth. After lunch I want to hear from my top executives — from the podium — expressing their personal insights.”
The CEO allowed himself to be as vulnerable as he had ever been in his life when he acknowledged the personal work he needed to do to make this merger a success. As he left behind his flaws so did the other executives, which made room for cooperation and partnership to grow.
Rolf continued his talk about the future. He engaged others in conversations about the “big challenges” and the “big picture.” The key was creating a shared context for change. By setting the stage in this way, he enabled others to find a common ground on which to build the future.
By setting the context, you level the playing field. Thus, power and hierarchy become less important than the results colleagues can create through teamwork. It is a field in which all can put themselves into the context of organizational change and define how they can contribute. When you are on the edge of discovering the context of change, you may find yourself thinking about how you can be an inclusive leader.
Learn to recognize when you’re coming from I in an unhealthy way. For instance, are you withdrawing and excluding others? Are you defensive and reactive, setting the context for territorialism to emerge? Shift your mindset from I to WE, and set a new context for communication, connectivity, and collaboration, for joining with others for mutual gain.
Judith E. Glaser is a change agent and executive coach, and refers to herself as an organizational anthropologist. She’s been a speaker for Vistage and TEC for more than six years, and is the author of three best-selling books: Creating We, The DNA of Leadership and 42 Rules for Creating WE. You can e-mail Glaser at firstname.lastname@example.org.